Jack Birmingham’s first job doesn’t involve flipping burgers at McDonald’s or throwing newspapers out of a basket onto his neighbours’ front lawns. Not for him, the drudgery of minimal wage slavery, or even getting out of bed before 9 am on a Saturday morning.

Instead, each night, he sits encased in a small dark room lit only by the screen and the LED’s on his $4000 custom built gaming PC. There, in a community where he is known almost exclusively by his gamer tag Wryce, he scrims with teammates he had never met in the world of real things until recently, against rival gamers in the Paladin Global Series league run by Hi Rez Studios.

Ultimately they are all fighting for the right to compete in national and international tournaments.

This year, his team The Outlaws placed second at the Pax Australia event in Melbourne in October, behind the local champions – Kanga – whose victory will see them perform in front of thousands of gaming fans at the High Rez International competition.

If Kanga wins they will divide up the lions share of a prize pool that last year ran into several hundred thousand dollars, plus the ongoing bounty of corporate sponsorship.

For his part, the 15-year-old Birmingham already routinely earns anywhere from several hundred dollars to over a thousand dollars a month from competition earnings and a small team stipend And that is before he starts monetizing his audience on channels like Twitter where has over 29,000 followers. Already his room is festooned with the paraphernalia of brands who have identified him as an influencer worth cultivating.

He, like tens of thousands of other young men and women all over the world, have found a way to parlay their online identity and enjoyment of gaming into real money in a real bank account. 

Stake a claim

Gaming is a gold rush and Wryce is one of the growing army of players already tapping a rich vein.

Of course in any gold rush, it is the people who sell the picks and shovels who really clean up. There is a huge ecosystem building around gaming, including software developers, hardware manufacturers and increasingly digital marketing and analytics players.

Yet for anyone not directly involved it feels like an industry cloaked by invisibility.

Here are some stats to chew. 12 million Australians game, 46 per cent of them are women. The market locally is estimated to be worth $1.5 billion,  and as much as $57.6 billion in Asia. The global gaming market is believed to generate revenues more than$130 billion.

And it continues to grow.

Offline goes online

This stunning performance may have passed mainstream businesses by, but Australia’s sporting codes are watching closely, and Which-50 understands some are starting to buy online gaming teams to add to their portfolios.

The reason is simple – numbers. Vast, inconceivable legions of highly engaged, cashed up fans and viewers offering a potential bonanza of merchandising and sponsorship revenue – assuming the opportunity can be harnessed.

For now, these moves are attracting little attention although they occasionally break into wider consciousness, such as when A-League team Melbourne City signed Marcus Gomes, an Australian FIFA esports player to represent club ahead of FIFA Interactive World Cup finals.

Australia’s sporting industry is alive to the growing commercial potential of esports

The industry is also attracting savvy service providers looking to claim an early advantage.

According to Emma Lo Russo, the co-founder of Digivizer and more recently Goto.game, many people simply fail to appreciate the scale of the audiences beyond the events (which are themselves frankly impressive.)

Take the Intel Extreme Makeover held in Sydney earlier this year. This is a mid-tier event by global standards attracting 7000 attendees.

But says Lo Russo, it had 9 million live viewers and 93 million re-watches on the internet.

“Now the AFL Grand final is Australia’s most watched sporting event and it gets 4.1 million viewers,” she tells Which-50.

Digivizer is investing in the gaming industry courtesy of Goto.game, a social media platform that aims to bring all the various threads tying the gaming economy together such as game manufacturers, sponsors and of course the gamers themselves.

The company’s analytics platform can then be applied to the data generated by the millions of gaming users to help brands who sponsor the competitions and the teams make better decisions and extract a stronger return from their investment.

“We looked at the sector and recognised this is a community that is highly skilled at creating content and live streaming. There is massive growth and highly engaged communities.  My view was that no one was really championing everyone in that community,” she said.

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